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Letter from Zambia

by Gillian Langmead

Zambia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a growth rate of around 6.5 percent.

Yet it is a nation of anomalies, where two thirds of its 13 million population live below the poverty line, while in urban centres there is a burgeoning middle class of consumers buying into South African retail brands, luxury cars and smartphones.

The country and its people find themselves on a cusp, torn between traditions and culture, and the lure of Western-style consumerism, fuelled by international media.

It is a small market, but also a fast-moving and evolving landscape where an eye for an opportunity and some entrepreneurial spirit can mean success for the determined, patient and brave.

It is also a country that has caught the eye of multinational companies and investors, attracted by the growth numbers, abundance of resources and an untapped market. Business has often turned out to be tougher than it looked on paper, however, and the old adage "double the costs and halve the revenue you first thought of" still holds sway.

Doing business in Zambia

Langmead & Baker Ltd. is an independent agency established in Zambia over a decade ago. Over that time it evolved from a development and business consultancy firm specialising in a blend of quantitative and qualitative research and analysis to a publishing company producing most of the country's magazines, including the country's only women's magazine, one spin-off from which was the production of Zambia Fashion Week.

In more recent years, the company has shifted focus into a PR and media relations company with a healthy portfolio of blue-chip international and local clients in aviation, mining, telecommunications, agribusiness and development.

Our ethos continues to be a hands-on approach with a passionate personal commitment to our clients' businesses borne out of an understanding of their wider business and financial strategy and backed by directors who have a PhD in Finance, two MBAs and a law degree between them.

Much of our work is set in the context of a media landscape that is relatively small and under-resourced, yet is embracing electronic and social media at a steadily increasing rate.

Here my background in journalism – as a former NCTJ-trained newspaper reporter and former contributing editor to Euromoney and The Banker – comes into play, and helping journalists find a strong news angle is a key part of what we do.

Zambian PR: still undervalued

While the concept of PR is beginning to take hold – although perhaps more among would-be practitioners than potential local clients - the irony is that it is a practice that that has been around in Zambia for decades without being recognised as such, under the guise of the countless donor-funded development projects offering extension services, behaviour change communications and community outreach programmes in everything from agriculture and nutrition, to HIV prevention and malaria treatment.

When it comes to local corporates, however, most do not appreciate the value of PR, nor have the budget to use it.

As a result, Langmead & Baker has taken a regional view of the PR business in order to achieve critical mass, growing into neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi and also covering Namibia and Botswana.

At the moment this work is largely inward-focused. Going forward, the wider challenge will be to take on the region's image - still tarnished by the West's simulacrum of death, disease and despair – and communicate its vibrancy, resilience and strength. If we can capture that essence, we are doing our job.

Facts about Zambia

  • Location: South Central Africa

  • Area: 752,614 Square Kilometres

  • Population Growth: 3%

  • Capital City: Lusaka

  • Official Language: English

  • Currency: Zambian Kwacha

  • Source: Zambia High Commission in the UK